Johann Hari writes in the Guardian that plastic surgeon Dr. Joe Rosen, of the Dartmouth Medical Center, is working on plastic surgery techniques which could make us resemble animals in ways we can?t even imagine today.
Rosen, who has been a scientific advisor to NASA, says, ?Human wings will be here. Mark my words.? He believes that within five years he will be able to graft wings onto a human body.
This is possible because our brains adapt to create neural maps for new body parts. When we have a limb amputated, our neural map of that limb gradually fades away; if we gain a body part, our neural map expands accordingly. ?If I were to give you wings, you would develop, literally, a winged brain. Our bodies change our brains, and our brains are infinitely moldable,? Rosen says.
Surgical techniques that have already been developed can be used to stretch torso fat and realign rib bones to create a wing. Although no human would be able to fly, after surgery they would resemble angels and have full sensation in their new hanging, boned flaps of flesh.
Rosen has also been working on cochlear implants to enhance human hearing and surgery to create tails. He says, ?Why do we only value the average? Why are plastic surgeons dedicated only to restoring our current notions of the conventional, as opposed to letting people explore, if they want, the possibilities?? He believes it?s only our ?Judaeo-Christian conservatism? that?s holding us back.
If the medical ethics board allowed it, Rosen says he would carry out these procedures as soon as possible. Sooner or later, Rosen?s plans will probably be put into action. But who would want wings or a tail?
Jim Rose, the head of a traveling ?freak show,? is familiar with people who drastically change their bodies, since a former colleague of his known as Enigma now has horns. Enigma?s horns are made of coral, which is recognized by the body as bone, and are implanted deep into his skull. Each year he has progressively larger coral implants because takes time for his skin to stretch. He only gave up on his dream of having jeweled eyebrows embedded into his face when doctors told him that having transdermal implants near hair follicles was extremely dangerous.
Rose says, ?I?ve worked with people with split tongues because they want to be like lizards, people who want to look like cats. I?ve lived with these people on the road for years, and believe me, they?re very interested in operations that could give them tails or wings.
?If there?s one thing that the outrageously altered have in common, it?s an incredible need for attention. Most of them in their past have felt overlooked, usually by a parent. That gives them a mindset that?s like, ?I will not be ignored.? Because of their desperate need for attention, they?re usually happier after they?ve been altered.?
This raises the concern that people who ask for these procedures are mentally ill. Some social scientists says they are seeing a global pandemic of Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), a condition which causes victims to feel their bodies are imperfect and must be corrected, often with surgery. The best-known manifestations of BDD are eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia.
BDD expert Katherine Phillips of Brown University says the disease an take the form of desiring extra body parts. She?s studying people with BDD who are able to persuade surgeons to give them what they want. ?For most of them it doesn?t help at all, it makes no difference. About 7% do get better, but for a small number, they get drastically worse and become very angry. They can attack their surgeons or kill themselves,? she says. There are complex ethical questions about whether cosmetic surgeons should do whatever a patient asks for, no matter how abnormal it seems. In a recent case in New York City, a female patient sued her plastic surgeon for malpractice because he failed to realize she had a severe obsession with her body image. She claims that her mental state made her unfit to consent to the more than 100 operations she had, including lyposuction, a tummy tuck and a nose job.
If problems like this arise with normal cosmetic surgery cases, what will happen with the radical kind proposed by Rosen? Can a doctor give someone a tail or wings without being accused of taking advantage of unstable or irresponsible patients?
Many plastic surgeons strongly disapprove of Rosen. Dr. John Hugill says that Rosen ?is way too far out, totally beyond mainstream medicine or mainstream cosmetic surgery. No plastic surgeon I know would do anything of this sort, and nor should he. He should be ashamed.?
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